A lifelong family Browns fanship where the spirit of 1964 has never faded: Bryan Davies

Childhood drawings of his 1964 Cleveland Browns heroes by op-ed contributor Bryan Davies, drawn when he was just shy of his 6th birthday.

SAULT STE. MARIE, Ontario — My story starts with these seven crayon drawings. I created them on the floor of our Oakville, Ontario, home just before my 6th birthday. I was watching the 1964 NFL Championship game with my Mom, Dad, Uncles Pat and Colin, and my younger sister Mary Ellen. I remember Dad’s complete joy that day – his beloved Browns blowing out Baltimore and Johnny Unitas 27-0, and beers all around.

My Dad had always loved football. After high school, he spent one season as an undersized Oakville Black Knights corner linebacker in the semi-pro Ontario Rugby Football Union. Dad told hilarious, self-deprecating tales of trying to tackle legendary Sarnia Imperials’ fullback Cookie Gilchrist, a fast, furious 250-pound battering ram and future Buffalo Bills’ AFL star. “I was a mere speed bump,” said Dad, “Cookie inspired dread in everyone.”

The Browns had been Dad’s team since 1948, the year when he emigrated with his family from London, England, to Oakville. In those All-American Football Conference days, Browns games were sometimes available through Buffalo television, its beams reaching across Niagara into Ontario’s “Golden Horseshoe.” No Cleveland logo, a tough, smart cadre of World War II vets led by “Automatic” Otto Graham, and late autumn Lake Erie football weather – three reasons why my Dad loved those early Browns teams.

After the 1964 title game, the Browns were our family’s passion through thick and thin. From the mid-1960s onward, the team’s success sometimes paralleled the ups and downs of our father-son relationship. Dad and I celebrated some great wins together over those 30 years. We roared and cursed when the Browns lost, especially when everything was seemingly trending upwards – Sipe, Ozzie, Gamblin’ Sam, and “Red Right 88,” “The Drive,” “The Fumble” – every Browns fan knows this three-act tragedy by heart.

A few years ago, lifelong Browns backer Condoleezza Rice (whom I have always admired) was asked at the Firestone Country Club, where she was being honored during the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship, to reflect on her favorite Browns moment since the franchise returned to Cleveland in 1999.

She picked the Browns’ 2021 American Football Conference wild-card victory at Pittsburgh, but there was a postscript: “I said to someone,” Rice said, as quoted by the Akron Beacon Journal: “‘The problem is when you’re a Browns fan and you go up by 28 points, you start to worry. I remember a friend of mine was going to come over and watch the game and we were already up 21-0 when she showed up. I said, ‘Let me be very clear, if something goes wrong, you go home right now.’”

For my family, annual Cleveland Municipal Stadium trips gave us great stories that became embedded deep into our family lore. Art Modell’s 1995 perfidy (as we saw it) was a simple, unspeakable, and unforgivable treason — we weren’t alone on that one. The Browns’ three-year hiatus had its own uncomfortable irony for Dad and me – we were not on the best of terms right then. The Browns’ 1999 return was soon followed by Dad’s sudden death, much too young at age 64 – his passing left our personal repair job half-finished. We never got to see a “new” Browns game together.

But it is funny how time can simultaneously soften and brighten our life histories and how we recall the past. For Mom, it is easy. Whenever the Browns are playing, she gets out an old Brian Sipe trading card and “Cuddles,” her stuffed toy mascot purchased at the 1985 home opener. The Boardman High School marching band played at halftime that day – it was Bernie Kosar’s first NFL game. Dad and I loved how Bernie and the Browns had engineered a supplemental draft pick heist with Buffalo to outsmart every other team.

Mom emailed me before the Jets game last month to tell me everything was falling into place that Thursday night – “Cuddles had a great meal and now she has her game face on,” she wrote. Behavioral experts call this phenomenon “anthropomorphizing” — humans projecting their emotions through inanimate objects. Mom laughs – at 87, these Cleveland relics simply help her keep the faith.

My Browns memories are poignant and powerful, old exhilarations mixed with regret. And yet? The sublime December 1964 spirit remains irresistible almost 60 years later – and my Dad never seems very far away on game day.

 

 

Gideon Canice

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